There is growing evidence that digital systems for cancer patient remote monitoring and symptom reporting can improve patient quality of life, save costs and possibly even increase survival rates.
In December E. Basch et al. published the results of a randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology about digital symptom reporting by cancer patients on chemotherapy. The results were very encouraging. By patients self-reporting their symptoms, the investigators were able to improve quality-of-life significantly, to prolong time on treatment, and to raise survival rates of the patients. In addition, the need for expensive emergency-room visits and hospitalizations was decreased, especially among the group of computer-inexperienced patients, who were on average older, more often men, and less educated.
This is groundbreaking news for all of us, as improved treatment outcomes are what cancer professionals care most about. But what about the cost savings, how big of an opportunity could that be?
In short, it’s huge, perhaps one of the biggest opportunities out there. As the management consultancy McKinsey wrote in a recent article, oncology spending in US alone is expected to reach $174 billion by 2020 and “recent studies suggest that the largest opportunity for reducing cancer-related costs lies in minimizing the number of avoidable inpatient stays due to side effects of cancer therapy, as well as avoidable use of intensive care units”. And if you look at what kind of inpatient stays would be avoidable, just think about severe side effects of cytostatic drugs such as neutropenic fever or diarrhea, which can, if diagnosed and treated early, be managed in an out-patient setting, supported by digital patient monitoring and symptom reporting.
In retrospect, all this seems logical. As there is increasing evidence that up to half of patients’ symptoms are consistently missed by cancer care professionals, an effective and user friendly service for structured symptom reporting by patient themselves is bound to improve not only the patient experience, but also outcomes and costs.